TORONTO — Actress and author Amber Tamblyn started writing Any Man, her debut novel about a mysterious female rapist who preys on men, three and a half years ago.
That was before #MeToo and Time’s Up, before she became a prominent advocate for those movements, and before she shared her experience of sexual assault on her Instagram account.
I need to tell you a story. With the love and support of my husband, I’ve decided to share it publicly. A very long time ago I ended a long emotionally and physically abusive relationship with a man I had been with for some time. One night I was at a show with a couple girlfriends in Hollywood, listening to a DJ we all loved. I knew there was a chance my ex could show up, but I felt protected with my girls around me. Without going into all the of the details, I will tell you that my ex did show up, and came up to me in the crowd. He’s a big guy, taller than me. The minute he saw me, he picked me up with one hand by my hair and with his other hand, he grabbed me under my skirt by my vagina— my pussy?— and lifted me up off the floor, literally, and carried me, like something he owned, like a piece of trash, out of the club. His fingers were practically inside of me, his other hand wrapped tightly around my hair. I screamed and kicked and cried. He carried me this way, suspended by his hands, all the way across the room, pushing past people until he got to the front door. My friends ran after him, trying to stop him. We got to the front door and I thank God his brothers were also there and intervened. In the scuffle he grabbed at my clothes, trying to hold onto me, screaming at me, and inadvertently ripped off my grandmother’s necklace, which I was wearing. The rest of this night is a blur I do not remember. How I got out to the car. How I got away from him that night. I never returned for my necklace either. That part of my body, which the current Presidential Nominee of the United States Donald Trump recently described as something he’d like to grab a woman by, was bruised from my ex-boyfriend’s violence for at least the next week. I had a hard time wearing jeans. I couldn’t sleep without a pillow between my legs to create space. To this day I remember that moment. I remember the shame. I am afraid my mom will read this post. I’m even more afraid that my father could ever know this story. That it would break his heart. I couldn’t take that. But you understand, don’t you? I needed to tell a story. Enjoy the debates tonight.
So while the book is not a direct reaction to current events, it does reflect a climate that’s been brewing for several years, says Tamblyn, whose book hits shelves Tuesday.
“Like most women, not just American women but around the world, we are forced to sit with a lot of our anger for the wrongs that we’ve experienced in our lives — whether it’s in the workplace or at home or culturally — and I think that this book happened for me because it was in the zeitgeist,” Tamblyn, who lives in Brooklyn, said in a recent phone interview.
“It’s living in the ether of the world and certainly for our country, with the election of Donald Trump and all the subsequent things that have happened in the last several years — and also the racism and demonization against our previous, wonderful president — I think for many women, a sense of allowing your rage in whatever creative capacity to show through, no holds barred, is how a lot of women are feeling right now, a lot of creative women.”
For Tamblyn, the creative spark came from the idea of a woman who had no consequences and was untouchable — who lives “as predatory men sometimes live,” she said.
“Especially if it was somebody who wasn’t doing it to get revenge on somebody, which I think is often the norm for dangerous, volatile, female characters — that they’re trying to get back at an ex-boyfriend or a john or their dad.”
The Emmy- and Golden Globe-nominated actress, who published the poetry collection Dark Sparkler in 2015, shaped the victims after men she knows.
One of her goals was to explore the stereotypes and archetypes of men.
“I also wanted to explore masculinity, both the toxic type and the protective type, and even the nurturing type, and find different ways to explore the male mind,” said the star of Joan of Arcadia and The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants.
Some men who’ve read the book have been “really upset” by it but also admitted they “can’t take their eyes away,” said Tamblyn.
“I basically took a lot of the same stories that women have been through in the last several years, certainly some big cases that we’ve seen here in America, and really did apply them to (the men’s) stories.
“So while it’s very upsetting for them, it’s an everyday experience for women. And especially for trans women and women of colour, I think in our country and culture, certainly, it’s even worse for them.”
Depicting how the victims felt took a physical toll on Tamblyn.
She said some of the ailments she had as a child actor — when having to pretend “to feel things for a living” affected her central nervous system — returned.
Those ailments included two painful conditions that affected the tendons in both hands and arms (bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome and De Quervain’s tenosynovitis) all while she was expecting her first child with comedy star David Cross.
“There were a series of things that would leave parts of my body tingling,” she recalled. “So I had to do a lot of physical work, a lot of meditation, a lot of therapy on the phone with my longtime therapist to process through the feelings and the emotions of it.”
The story looks at how society perpetuates rape culture and Tamblyn feels it’s “an indictment of the culture.”
She hopes it will help readers “recognize what it feels like, what the experience of someone who’s been sexually assaulted, no matter their gender, what that road is like.”
“A lot of what the book does is aim to re-sensitize the conversation and to be able to feel again,” Tamblyn said.
“I think for women, too, there’s a sense of not being able to feel, because you haven’t been able to get through to people, it’s sort of brushed off. Even the #MeToo movement has been seen as either called a ‘witch hunt’ or going too far or all of these questionable things that movements like that are being called.
“So in the same breath, I think it’s also been kind of reviving for a lot of women to say, ‘Yes, this is the experience. Do you feel it now? Now that it’s on your body, do you feel it? Can you feel it when you read it?”‘